KICKOFF: Coaching snakes and ladders reaches farcical proportions

MERRY GO ROUND: The NRL coaching circus continues to roll on, with Manly coach Trent Barrett's desire to leave Manly two years ahead of time a footnote in the wider chaos. Picture: AAP
MERRY GO ROUND: The NRL coaching circus continues to roll on, with Manly coach Trent Barrett's desire to leave Manly two years ahead of time a footnote in the wider chaos. Picture: AAP

ON Thursday morning Manly coach Trent Barrett sounded like George Costanza bemoaning his inability to leave the New York Yankees: “I can’t get fired.” 

Maybe he should try tying the 2008 and 2011 premiership trophies to the back of his car and cutting donuts in the car park.

Talk about a topsey-turvey world, here’s a coach trying to tear up his own contract, and a board digging in. It would seem entirely bizarre but, in the 2018 coaching circus, it’s become a banality

Credit to Barrett, he handles the media better than any other coach, but even he seemed conscious of the farcical nature of the whole situation when he fronted his compulsory media conference. “I know it’s tough being here at 8am and not saying anything.” 

In recent weeks we’ve seen Penrith sack Anthony Griffin four weeks before the finals, and less than 12 months after extending his contract, because he might win a premiership and then they’d have to keep him – oh, and he’s not Nathan Cleary’s dad.

They’re willing to cop a $1.6 million to payout for Griffin to try and lure back Ivan Cleary, a man they previously paid to sit on his hands for a year in 2016. Cleary then took five days to declare his commitment to the Tigers, slamming media “misinformation” but refusing to take questions to clarify.

In Brisbane, the Broncos are trying to offload the game’s most successful coach with a year to run on his deal in order to chase a rookie, albeit the likely 2018 coach of the year, Anthony Siebold. That’s if they don’t go after the man he replaced, premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire, who the Bunnies punted with two years to run on his deal. 

On the glitter strip, Neil Henry was sacked with a year to run on his contract in order to keep an underperforming Jarryd Hayne, who subsequently left the rejoin the Eels. Then there’s Des Hasler, sacked by the Bulldogs six months after signing a two-year extension – the board then tried to claim that deal was “non-binding” oh Lord give me strength. 

The NRL is often hammered – quite rightly –  for its fiscal waste. It can’t hold a candle to the NRL clubs who went to war with CEO Todd Greenberg when he tried to limit club grants from the new TV deal. Can you blame him given the insane money, multiple millions of dollars, clubs are paying coaches not to coach their teams. It’s why the salary cap stays conservatively low, to protect clubs from themselves.

Is it something the Dragons, still in huge debt to the NRL, want or need to mire itself in. Wayne Bennett’s sudden availability puts Paul McGregor under the pump, despite his side having been in the top four all season until last week. 

There’s no doubt the burden of the club’s recent history is weighing heavily on his shoulders, but Bennett has played his own role in creating that recent past. In 2009 the Dragons lost three of their last four games before going out of the finals in straight sets. In 2011 they lost seven of their last nine, including two finals matches, to go out the back door. 

With seven premierships, including the Dragons’ 2010 crown to his name, Bennett bears consideration for all clubs. Like him or loathe him, he’s a mastercoach, but is he right for the Dragons?

When Bennett parted ways with the Knights in 2014, discussions with the Dragons about a return were very well advanced before he ultimately played the club off a break and returned to Brisbane. He’s pulled the same move before, ask Nick Politis or Shane Richardson.  

Does the club want to be used as leverage again? Can it afford to? McGregor has a year to run on his deal. Plenty tipped the Dragons to finish in the bottom four this season. For the most part they’ve exceeded expectations. 

It would take a dramatic from reversal, but they could still exceed them further. McGregor is entitled to expect he’ll be given the time the club committed to giving him when they extended his deal last season.